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Bravo star Andy Cohen, comedian Michelle Buteau lobby for paid surrogacy in NY

Karen DeWitt

Bravo star Andy Cohen and comedian Michelle Buteau are among those advocating for New York to adopt a law allowing paid gestational surrogacy. But pockets of opposition remain.

Assembly sponsor Amy Paulin and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman hosted a panel Tuesday that featured Cohen and Buteau, who each have had to leave the state to have children through surrogacy.

Cohen said as a gay man, he was drawn to New York because he could live his life openly. He said it seems wrong that he had to go out of state when it came time to find a surrogate to have a child. He chose California, where paid surrogacy is legal, and had a son, Benjamin, early in 2019. 

"I would like to give a brother or sister to Benjamin, and I would like to do it New York state," said Cohen, who said he has had a great relationship with his surrogate.

Buteau said she has a medical condition that causes her body to reject a pregnancy. After years of trying in-vitro fertilization and four miscarriages, she decided to try surrogacy and was surprised to learn that it was illegal in New York. 

"I felt like my body rejected me and now my home state has rejected me," Buteau said. 

With financial help from her parents, she and her husband found a surrogate in Pennsylvania, where the practice is legal. She now is the mother of twins.

Others who back the measure include women who are cancer survivors and became infertile because of their treatments.  

Cohen said afterward that he'd be spending the day getting the message out during meetings with lawmakers. The Senate passed the measure last year, and it is also backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced on Tuesday the start of a campaign to help get the bill passed. 

"This antiquated law is repugnant to our values and we must repeal it once and for all and enact the nation's strongest protections for surrogates and parents choosing to take part in the surrogacy process," Cuomo said in a statement.  

There is some resistance, though, in the Democratic-led state Assembly, where some lawmakers are uncomfortable with the idea. Cohen said the bill, as crafted, assuages some of those concerns and could be an example to other states on how to do it right. 

"We need them to understand that this bill will be a bellwether for other states," Cohen said, "in terms of surrogates' rights and protecting surrogates."

But opponents say allowing paid surrogacy in New York could open the door to exploitation of women.

Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, said if the bill becomes law, New York could become a "center for reproductive tourism." 

"We can just imagine if a trafficker or an abuser has the power and control and the easy money of implanting someone else's embryos in their prey and their victim," Bien-Aime said. "We are really unleashing a 'Handmaid's Tale' type of situation that is not science fiction." 

Bien-Aime said she supports what's known as altruistic surrogacy, which she likens to organ donation, where no money changes hands between donors and recipients. But she said the surrogacy arrangements need to be more closely regulated by the state to protect everyone involved. 

"New York should actually develop a registry just like we have for organ donation," she said. "So that there are ethics in place and protections in place."  

Supporters say the bill does have protections for women, known as the surrogates' bill of rights, which includes legal and medical safeguards. 

Other opponents include the Catholic Church, which said in an opposition bill memo that "it treats children as commodities to be manufactured, bought and sold."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.